Broken Hill, Silverton and White Cliffs in far western NSW are places that entice you to linger.
The region was first ‘discovered’ in 1841 by Sir Thomas Mitchell. Charles Sturt saw the Barrier Ranges in 1844 while searching for the inland sea, and made reference to a ‘broken hill’ in his diary. By the 1870s many of the smaller pastoral leases proved to be non-viable and were bought by cattle barons such as Sir Sydney Kidman.
In 1883, deposits of tin, lead, zinc and silver were found, and these would prove to be the largest and richest ire body of its kind in the world. The rest is history. Within eight years the population had grown to more than 20,000 and Broken Hill was known as the Silver City.
Some of the original wood and corrugated iron buildings (known as ‘tinnies’) can still be seen today, and the awful dust storms of the past have been controlled by a green belt around the town.
The main industry is mining, but tourism plays a large part in the local economy. The town has many historical buildings, while art galleries abound and several well-known artists live here.
The Line of Lode Miners Memorial and Visitors Centre is built right on the edge of the mullock heap that runs through the town. There is a wonderful view from the memorial and from the Block 10 and Browne’s Shaft lookouts, which also have heaps of old mining equipment.
Broken Hill is a major service centre for the region. All services are available, including doctors and a major hospital.
You just can’t leave Broken Hill without having a milkshake or ‘spider’ at the old Bells Milk Bar and Museum, which has been kept exactly as it was in the 1950s.
The Sculpture Symposium in the Living Desert flora and fauna sanctuary is 9km north of town. On April Fool’s Day in 1993, over 50 tonnes of very hard rock were delivered to the sculpture site, where several artists from around the world took two months to complete 12 works. The Broken Hill council provided funding and the local community supplied tools and scaffolding.
You can walk up to see the sculptures from the sanctuary car park or drive up after obtaining a key to the gate from the Visitors Centre. The gates to the sanctuary open at 8:30am, but a sunset visit would also be very desirable.
If you walk the track that goes through the sanctuary, make sure to pack water as there are a number of hills and it seems longer than the brochure suggests. Sturt desert pea is a colourful feature of the flora site, and the 2km cultural walk displays a number of interesting aspects of the local Aboriginal culture, including replica drawings.
Silverton, 25km north-west of Broken Hill, has been the scene for several movies. The area has been mined from 1867 and its charm lies in the old buildings: several are used as galleries, others are in various stages of decay, but all are heritage-listed.
The landscape is barren, and there are emus and donkeys wandering around. You can’t help but ponder the difficulties the miners would have had living and working in these harsh conditions.
The sealed road continues for 4km to the Mundi Mundi Plain lookout, and 6km further on, you come to the Umberumberka Reservoir with lookout, picnic area and toilets.
A visit to Broken Hill would not be complete without a drive out to Silverton. There is a rustic caravan park for those who wish to stay longer.
The road to the opal-mining town of White Cliffs is fully sealed: head east 200km from Broken Hill to Wilcannia, then turn north for 95km.
The drive to White Cliffs is through harsh, dry and barren country. Keep your eyes peeled for wedge-tailed eagles soaring on the thermals and feasting on road kill. Due to the time it takes to life their bulk into the air, these birds are very vulnerable to becoming road kill themselves. Slow down to give them plenty of time to take off.
In White Cliffs there is a visitor centre, pub, café, post office, gold course (interesting!) and a great coffee shop. The owner has opal ‘pineapples’ on show: these odd shaped opals are only found at White Cliffs. You can also inspect the solar system that powered the town several years ago.
Many locals live underground, and several homes are open for inspection. There’s also a caravan park and camping area, but make sure your awnings are tied down if you leave camp, as willy-willies may come through suddenly.
Maybe it’s because of the spectacularly colourful landscape, the artworks, the opal mining or the friendly locals, but you are sure to want to visit Broken Hill and White Cliffs more than once.